When a U.S. District Court judge Tuesday afternoon lifted a temporary restraining order issued against a small Orthodox Jewish synagogue in California, Chabad of Irvine, regarding a specific Yom Kippur ritual that involves kosher killings of chickens, representatives at religious freedom law firm, First Liberty Institute, said it was a victory for every person of faith in America. The judge's action came just in time for members to observe the high holiday beginning at sundown on Oct. 11.
Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is the most solemn and one of holiest days of the year in Judaism. Its central theme is repentance. Jewish people traditionally observe this holy day with an approximate 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services. Orthodox Jews, following some of the most strict religious practices among Judaism, sometimes want to perform a kaporos ceremony as part of a traditional Yom Kippur ritual. This rite consists of taking a chicken and passing it over one's head three times while reciting the appropriate text, an act of symbolically transferring human sins to the chicken. The fowl is then slaughtered in accordance with halachic procedure and its monetary worth given to financially struggling people, or the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause as food.
"The kaporos ceremony is a cherished tradition of our faith," Rabbi Alter Tenenbaum, the rabbi of the Chabad of Irvine, said in a Yahoo article. "For a court to order us to stop our religious practice because some refuse to tolerate our beliefs is deeply distressing."
In late September, representatives of a Virginia-based, animal rights organization called United Poultry Concern filed a federal lawsuit against the Chabad of Irvine synagogue, seeking to prevent its members from engaging in such a ceremony. They alleged such rituals violate state laws.
Matthew Martens, partner with international law firm WilmerHale and lead counsel for the Chabad of Irvine synagogue said they were grateful Judge André Birotte Jr. took emergency action to ensure the Jewish synagogue members' First Amendment rights were safeguarded.
"Every American has a right to practice their religious traditions in peace," Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty Institute and co-counsel for the synagogue, said. "Special interest activists are trying to ban a religious ceremony that Orthodox Jews have practiced for at least 1,200 years."
The Orange County Register reported it was unclear on Tuesday whether the Chabad planned on performing the ritual.